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Winter Sunsets Over the Prairie (What Time is it in Nature)

November 15, 2014

With the arrival of winter comes a real change in the sunlight we experience.  Sure, it gets darker earlier in the evening, as you expect given the abrupt switch from the late, bright evenings of Daylight Savings Time to the much earlier sunsets of Standard Time, but nights also become longer as we move toward the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice in late December.  At the same time, the Earth tilts on its axis so that we see a shift from the intense summer sun pouring down on us from directly overhead to the sharply angled winter light that glances over the surface of our planet.  The low, angled light gives winter a unique look with long shadows and a dullness that results from the sunlight taking a longer, less direct route through our atmosphere.

Even though our days are shorter and the sunlight we see isn’t quite as bright as it is in summer, the low winter sun can create some spectacular light displays that are well worth looking out for.  The “golden hour,” the hour before sunset where the sun sinking low on the horizon casts a yellow hue over everything, can bathe the entire landscape in warm, golden light that is cherished by sunset enthusiasts and nature photographers everywhere:

Golden hour at Prairie Ridge

The low sun also produces some amazing sunsets.  And because it gets dark early in the evening now that we’ve returned to Standard Time, you might be able to see a sunset at Prairie Ridge over the next few months!  Sunsets like this:


Or this:


Or this:


Or even this!:


Winter sunsets can be amazing and, combined with any sort of clouds in the sky, the low winter sun makes for one of the most brilliant spectacles of nature.

Next time you’re out at Prairie Ridge close to closing time, I encourage you to take a look out over the prairie as you head back to the parking lot.  Have a camera ready!  The late afternoon sunlight can produce some gorgeous landscapes that you won’t want to miss!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Museum’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photos by Chris Goforth)

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